American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
The Chinese Lunar New Year is a template for returns. These returns play out over a two-week period in which, on the national level, tens of millions of urban Chinese workers return to their rural home villages. As experienced in any given rural area, villagers and returnees experience these returns through a series of ritual and commensal occasions. This paper will investigate the moral dimensions of return during the Lunar New Year in one southeastern Chinese village, especially as expressed through ritual and commensality. These ritual and commensal occasions create boundaries, but also serve to incorporate a continuously widening group of people back within the fold of the village, framed as the “root” and “home” of all returnees. The paper will first examine the implicit moral positioning expressed in these various commensal and other ritual events. Then the paper will turn to an examination of explicit frameworks, focusing on the moral tensions expressed in villager and returnee discourses about their village “old home” and the life trajectories and experiences of so many of them, which are increasingly urban. We will also try seek to understand how all of these narratives connect or respond to official discourses about modernity, culture and urbanization.